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Technical Terminology Undefined

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Technical Terminology Undefined
Posted by HOmainline on Sunday, January 07, 2018 5:01 PM

Why is it that locomotive manufacturers (diesel and steam) and structure kit (specifically laser kit) manufacturers use technical terms in their user guides and instructions, yet almost never define those terms or define - or even illustrate - only some?  Very few people I've ever met are architects, engineers, technicians, designers, home builders and the like to whom technical terminology is a second language. 

The user guides for the three different makes of locomotives I own are next to worthless; two of them are esentially for ordering spare parts with purely generic instructions for lubing certain areas of the locos.  The third specifies lubing only one part of the loco and leaves the others unmentioned.  Sample wording: "Lube the worm gears, idle gears and bearing areas."  I give them credit though for specifying what type of lube to use, but there is no diagram showing where they are or what they look like.  Yes, I know what a gear looks like, but how many are there and where are they?  Bearing areas?  Ditto.  Also, "Use light oil on the axles."  That's good for the axles, but no mention at all is made for lubing whatever other parts lurk inside that loco that also require maintenance.

A couple of laser kit terms (for building a bridge, depot, house, etc. from three different manufacturers I own) that immediately come to mind are "bents" and "roof returns."  I eventually learned what "bents" are, though "roof returns" remain a mystery.  That's just a small sampling, as I'm sure there are more.  Again, no definition or diagram specifying what those parts are or even where they go.

As a modeler performing these tasks for the first time, I find this lack of essential information both hard to comprehend and frustrating.  Why make customers guess - particularly newcomers to the hobby (the manufacturers', uh, future!) - or a task go undone with such detailed, expensive pieces of equipment?  Sure, I could ask the local hobby shop or club (assuming there even are any), Google it or post questions on forums such as this, but that's a lot of unnecessary time and effort for the most basic of details that should accompany every new locomotive and kit.    

In a similar vein, my primary avocation is bicycling and bicycle touring, which I've been enjoying for over forty years.  The first things I bought after getting my first bike back then were a couple of repair and maintenance manuals, one of which is so comprehensive and detailed in text, photos and exploded drawings and diagrams that it's all I need to keep my bike fit and running well even today.  I taught myself the necessary skills and in the process learned cycling's own specialized terms, just as I want to learn the requisite model railroading jargon and skills.  Admittedly, bicycles are more complex than locos, though that's not the point.  The absence of such complete and detailed information on the part of locomotive and kit manufacturers hampers those self-education efforts.  I've even written to a few manufacturers, but those concerns and questions went unanswered.

Only in the last two months, however, have I found some relief in the form of two guidebooks:  Cody Grivno's 2017 publication, "Beginner's Guide to Locomotives and Rolling Stock" and Jim Volhard's 1999 tome, "Maintaining and Repairing Your Scale Model Trains."  In some thirty years of off-and-on model railroading at a very basic level, these are the only books I've ever seen or owned (I have over thirty guidebooks on just about every model railroading topic) that address the subject of locomotive and rolling stock maintenance and repair.  Kudos to Cody and Jim!  The former is quite good, though missing some detailed information, while the latter is the comprehensive equivalent to the bicycle repair manual I've relied on for decades.  And, I only learned of Volhard's book because another member of this forum told me about it.  To him, my thanks once again.  Never before had I heard about it or seen it anywhere (turns out it was buried deeply on page 150 or something on Amazon). 

So, what I see locomotive and kit manufacturers doing in their "instructions" is basically writing for themselves (the "already knowledgeable") or for those in technical professions for whom specialized terminology may be long ingrained in their educations and skill sets, while forgetting that the vast majority of us are always, at some point or other, laymen and that an even larger majority of newbies has yet to enter the hobby or is unborn.  Manufacturers, are you listening?

So, my reason for writing all this?  I'd like to hear from others who may feel similarly - or otherwise.  

What's been your experience?  And why are there (or have there been) only two guidebooks, in recent

decades anyway, on locomotive and rolling stock maintenance?  I believe manufacturers on both fronts

need to do a better job of educating their customers.  Why?  Loyalty.  It's good for business.

Kerry

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Posted by tstage on Sunday, January 07, 2018 5:28 PM

Kerry,

Yea, all manufacturers - some more than others - could do a better job of describing things in their assembly or maintenance instructions in plain, understandable verbiage.  I don't mind the technicial terms but a consistent clear (non-pixelated) picture and/or well-placed arrow or number would help to better educate the modeler.

I found this most frustrating when first learning the underside brake mechanism and individual components of a piece of rolling stock.  Occasionally I still have to extrapolate information while assemblying a kit because the assembly instructions are not clear enough or are poorly written.  While I have gotten used to it, it's probably not going to be very high on the manufacturer's radar because most modelers and manufactures only want RTR product nowadays.

Tom

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Time...It marches on...without ever turning around to see if anyone is even keeping in step.

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Sunday, January 07, 2018 6:06 PM

Well, some people have a thirst for technical knowledge, and some don't.

My 7th grade science fair project was on the workings of the Westinghouse Air Brake.......but I was already well into model trains by then.......

By age 14 I was repairing trains at the local hobby shop......

Instructions for lots of products are lacking, nothing new there.

How about these computers, intuitive? not by a long shot.

Architecture, yes we have failed you, and the rest of our children, by educating them in boring concrete boxes for the last 50 years...........

Bicycle more complex than a locomotive? Maybe, maybe not. At age 14 I restored a Columbia bicycle built for two.......

At age 18 I restored a car from the ground up that I then drove for 8 years.

Fact is model train locos don't need a lot lubrication, or maintenance, but it is good that some good books are now covering the subject.

Roof returns are a mystery because many newer houses don't have them....again a cultural decline in architecture (disclaimer, I restore old houses for a living, and live in one 118 years old, with roof returns, so present day cardboard and plastic McMansions don't impress me much).

Without a picture, I dare not even try to explain a roof or "gable" return......just google it, and look at the images......

I am still a little amazed at the number of people in this hobby with no real interest in how real trains actually work......but maybe it is just me who wants to understand such things, maybe I am the strange one.....

But again, somewhat agreed, instructions with a lot of products are lacking.....

And even without a college education, I know the what a roof return is, (and all the rest of the parts of a house), I can build a house, I have built cars, wired computers to run factories, wired sky scrapers, and bridges, and power plants. I know the elements and history of architecture, and more. And I learned it all before the internet, and did not wait for anyone to hand me the answers......

Sheldon

 

 

    

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Posted by cedarwoodron on Sunday, January 07, 2018 6:24 PM

As a retired industrial arts teacher, I had to master the terminology of residential and commercial architecture- or I would be poorly serving my customers, vocational high school students, who would be expected to be at least nominally familiar with such terminology on the job in the real world. As part of my curriculum I also included technical writing for them, so they could learn to communicate in an appropriate manner, again, on the job.  Having said that, an old rule of thumb for technical writing was that it should be written at a 6th grade comprehension level. The probable theory behind this was that the average vocational employee was not initially a stellar scholar and by making things understandable at that level, virtually all could be informed sufficiently. 

The other side of this is that if you are in a technical hobby, you should be willing and able to learn the nomenclature needed to perform adequately for your own enjoyment.

I don't expect I will ever master the intricacies of mechanical power plants and steam engineering sufficient to enable me to identify all aspects of a steam locomotive, but along the way, I have learned to identify various features that are often referenced in literature and in online discussions. No one forced me to do do- I did it for myself to help me in the hobby.

I undestand the frustration of inadequate instructions and poorly imaged diagrams, but that is the fault of the manufacturer. Remenber, much is now made in China and their command of English as manufacturers dictates what goes into the final product package as far as written information goes.

I learn something new every hour I spend in the hobby and I enjoy that as much as building a kit or masking for a three-color paint job.

I thought I was done learning after my second masters degree, but I was wrong, especially in our wonderful hobby of model railroading. No one expects us to become mechanical or electrical engineers overnight, but just a nascent familiarity with the technical aspects goes a long way toward better comprehension!

Cedarwoodron

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Posted by doctorwayne on Sunday, January 07, 2018 10:42 PM

While I'm also aware of what a gable/roof return is, here's a LINK to some illustrative photos.

Like others here, I grew up with many of those technical terms through my parents and other relatives, who often spoke in their particular technical jargon when discussing such things among themselves.  Most of it, even at a young age, I understood with little or no explanation, and when I couldn't understand, I asked for an explanation. 

Nowadays, Google is your friend...as long as you word your search specifically. Stick out tongue

Wayne

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Posted by selector on Monday, January 08, 2018 12:05 AM

With our lives increasingly governed...er....infiltr....hooo....ummmm....enhanced....yeah, enhanced...with specialised and technical gizmos, we have moved away from the generations of people who learned hands-on.  Our parents had to repair many things, or build them from scratch.  They learned how, but they also learned the jargon or the lexicon for the craft or trade.  Most of us don't know the first thing about what is under our keyboards or behind that slidy-tray thingee that we put our CD's in (remember CDs?). When our smart phone acts up, and the guy at the kiosk shrugs and asks you if it's still under warranty, we think it's about time to invest in a new one.  Cars?  They have been arcane for years now due to the sophisticated systems keeping them running for us.  Even so, few of our successors can afford cars...or homes....sssoooooooooooo...........

I do agree that some of the literature is a bit stingy.  The exploded diagrammes require electron microscopes or access to a very expensive Zeiss 350 power optical one.  If we can actually make out what is on those diagrammes, and there's a parts list somewhere nearby, it becomes easier to find out what the manufacturer's name is for a certain item.

Other than that, I thought there was a glossary here....once upon a time.  Maybe I'm mistaken.  If there isn't one, it could easily be added.  With links to graphics or images. 

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Posted by Enzoamps on Monday, January 08, 2018 3:06 AM

I didn't know what a roof return was either, so as others suggested, I just entered "roof return" into google, and there it was, a bunch of pictures as well as definitions and explanations.

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Posted by mvlandsw on Monday, January 08, 2018 2:04 PM

Roof return = A place for the birds to nest.

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Posted by IRONROOSTER on Monday, January 08, 2018 4:47 PM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL
How about these computers, intuitive? not by a long shot.

Yes, as someone noted in the early days, there are 8 ways to insert a floppy (5 1/4") and only one of them is correct.

But I agree with others, good diagrams with good instructions number keyed to each other goes a long way to making it all understandable.

But mostly we get an exploded diagram that is good for both 40' boxcars and 36' refrigerator cars.  One 3D view only and small detail parts omitted for clarity.  No written instructions provided since the diagram explains it all.Laugh

For better or worse, part of the hobby is finding and learning a lot of information about both models and prototypes.

Paul

If you're having fun, you're doing it the right way.
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Posted by HOmainline on Monday, January 08, 2018 6:27 PM

Steve Otte,

Care to chime in? You and your M.R. colleagues must certainly be in contact with a wide variety of manufacturers. Anything you can do to bring their attention to this matter so they can fix it would be a big help. Right now they're doing a poor job of it.

Also, thanks to everyone for adding your two cents. Yes, it is the fault of the manufacturers for not providing the essential information, definitions and diagrams all modelers need to build and maintain their purchases...er, I mean to continue buying from those manufacturers who have forgotten for whom they're providing product.

Writing at a sixth grade level makes sense. Whether or not we can find the meaning of a technical term on our own or learned it around the dinner table is irrelevant. It's every manufacturer's job to provide complete and clear instructions, a task at which they've failed. If my company's instructions were so lacking, I'd be embarrassed.

Regarding the depot kit I'm building, there's not even a diagram of those "roof returns," much less a definition or where they go.

Kerry

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Posted by mbinsewi on Monday, January 08, 2018 7:40 PM

So, just what kit are you building?  Pictures of the box, description?  I don't ever remember a kit that I couldn't figure out the details, railcar, or structure. But, I've spent all of my adult working life in the construction industry.

Now, to remove the roof, and expose the interior of some passenger "RTR" cars could be a bit more detailed, but thats all I can think of.

Mike.

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Posted by rrinker on Monday, January 08, 2018 8:25 PM

 My thoughts - there are numerous places for the hobbyist to get information on various technical matters. For example, MR has run many articles over the years explaing the parts of the air brake system. Why should every kit manufacturer include all that verbiage in the instructions? There have been MR articles and books explaining the differnent kinds of ends, doors, and roofs used on boxcars, too. 

 As for taking care of locos - there also have been articles over the years, and also various books and web sites. It's not very practical to create a one size fits all reference - new models are constnatly being introduced. What's needed with each model is how to get inside the darn thing. The rest, once you've seen one, is pretty obvious. It's not hard to tell what rotates inside somethign else and where you need to lubricate things. The better stuff like Labelle even mentions on their various products just what sort of things they are made for - the heavier stuff for gears so it sticks and actually lubricates the gears instead of getting flung off, the thinner stuff for wheel and motor bearings. There is no need for a detailed explanation for every different model out there, they're all pretty much the same inside.

                        --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Monday, January 08, 2018 10:30 PM

Kerry, please give us more info about this structure kit with these bad instructions? Brand? Type of kit?

So I have to ask, what do you do for a living that all of this is so outside your knowledge base?

You don't know anyone who is in any aspect of the building trades? You don't know anyone who is an engineer? I am curious, what kind of world you live in?

When you buy a new car, the manufacturer does not give you a service manual, only an operating manual, same is true of most things.........

Today's RTR model trains are pretty simple - remove from box, place on track......

Sure, at some point locos need some care, but as I said earlier, not all that much....

Model railroading is a complex, diverse, expansive hobby that is approached in different ways by different people, at different skill levels, who have different goals for the hobby.

Manufacturers do expect that you have some basic knowledge before you get too deep in this stuff, and yes, they expect you to seek out additional info on your own because of the rather large knowledge base the hobby can intail.

Every freight car is not going to come with a 20 page booklet, not sure what you expect......

Sheldon 

 

    

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Posted by rrinker on Tuesday, January 09, 2018 7:50 AM

 Heck even the owner's manuals for cars have changed a lot. My older cars - they would tell you everything from the proper tire inflation to how to change a flat to how to change the oil, and every light bulb in the car. Now they just tell you to take it to a dealer for that stuff, and spend 40 pages on how to work the radio/infotainment system.

 Then there's all the stuff that's not really documented anywhere - if I input the 'secret code' on the computer (last few digits of the VIN), I can access all sorts of raw sensor data without using any external tools - it shows right on the dash display. My car, for example, has an oil temp guage but not water temp (turbo car) - in the 'secret menu' there is a display of the water temp sensor the car has. There's no boost guage for the turbo, but I can see that. All quite neat, except that every time you start the car, you have to do it all over again to reactivate it.

                                      --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by Canalligators on Thursday, January 11, 2018 2:24 PM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL
Bicycle more complex than a locomotive? Maybe, maybe not. At age 14 I restored a Columbia bicycle built for two......

I'd say so, but not much more.  Number of function points are certainly in the same order of magnitude, though.

ATLANTIC CENTRAL
I am still a little amazed at the number of people in this hobby with no real interest in how real trains actually work..

I'm amazed that there are people who start a cross country bike trip without knowing how to patch a tire.  You don't have to be "into" mechanical stuff to learn a fairly straightforward procedure that you'll certainly need.

One of the great things about this hobby is that you can work on so many different things, depending on what you're in the mood for that day.  Paint backdrops, apply figures or structures, clean track, do a freight run, wire a new siding, program a locomotive, or, yes, do annual maintenance on your fleet.  I have a diverse set of skills, but there are some people who would be happy to do scenery work but never work on their trains.  Their call, I won't judge.

Genesee Terminal, freelanced HO in Upstate NY
  ...hosting Loon Bay Transit Authority, run through Amtrak and CSX Intermodal

CP/D&H, N scale, somewhere on the Canadian Shield

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Posted by joe323 on Thursday, January 11, 2018 3:40 PM

This thread reminds me of when I was studying computers and I was given a reference manual called “IBM 370 Principles of Operation” POPs for short.  This 1000 page manual has right in its introduction that it assumes you have a knowledge of computers and then went on for 1000+pages to spew gobblegook that even my professors barely understood 

Joe Staten Island West 

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